A RESPONSIBLE, balanced approach to the effects of the global transition to a low carbon future on the coal mining sector.
That's the way NSW government mining agencies describe the Berejiklian government's "clear and consistent policy framework for coal exploration and mining in NSW".
It was the same message that Resources Minister and Deputy Premier John Barilaro pushed last Thursday when he travelled to Yancoal's Mount Thorley/Warkworth mine near Singleton to unveil a new map summarising the government's approach.
Community and environmental groups were less than happy with the outcome in relation to the sites.
The Wollombi community was shocked at its inclusion. The government said on Friday that Wollombi had been an exploration area since 1981 and had "always been on a list of possible sites for exploration".
Lock The Gate Alliance said there was nothing "strategic" about the eight sites Mr Barilaro said he wanted "fast tracked" for exploration. Spokesperson Georgina Woods said politics rather than environmental concerns had driven the choice of the five areas the government said it was protecting from mining.
Seasoned coal campaigner Bev Smiles said: "Wollar Progress Association and neighbouring communities in the Bylong, Rylstone and Ulan areas are appalled at the scale of the area available for new coal mines."
The eight exploration areas under the strategic framework (numbered as on the map) are:
Gorman North (1)
Runs south from the outskirts of Narrabri to join the Narrabri underground mine (ML1609), owned by major Australian coal producer Whitehaven, which operates most of the mines in this area, including Maules Creek open cut. Gorman North is part of a larger exploration licence, Authorisation No 216 (or A216), Mount Martha, held by the state and covering 1443 square kilometres and surrounding the Narrabri mine on four sides. The same area is covered by Petroleum Exploration Licence (PEL) 238, held by gas company Santos, covering 109 "blocks" of 75 square kilometres each, a total of 8175 square kilometres.
Coolah South (5)
Immediately north of Glencore's Ulan complex, presently the Ulan West and Ulan No3 underground mines. Ulan open-cut stopped operations in 2014. Coolah South is part of a much larger exploration area, A286, held by the state, which covers 7552 square kilometres. All except a small section to the north of the area is also covered by petroleum licence PEL433, held by Santos from 2001 to 2015, with a renewal application lodged.
Giants Creek (6)
Close to the north-west boundary of Glencore's Mangoola open-cut. It sits at the eastern edge of the giant A286 exploration area that stretches cross to Coolah South. Between Giants Creek and Mangoola is exploration area A8064, site of the proposed Ridgelands mine. Immediately east of Giants Creek is Coal Assessment Lease (AL) 0019 held by Muswellbrook Coal for its proposed West Muswellbrook mine. This AL expired in November last year and renewal has been sought.
Knowledge that the NSW Government contemplated opening Benelabri and Ridgelands was, potentially, valuable information. An unscrupulous investor could have used that information to purchase rural lands within those tenements at a value not affected by any knowledge that those areas would or might be declared to be open for miningICAC Operation Jasper, Chapter 25, 2013. Benelabri is one of the sites the government says cannot be mined
Comprises four separate irregularly shaped areas that largely, but not exclusively, follow the shape of cleared land in the area, with forested ridges excised. Wollar sits east of Peabody's Wilpinjong open-cut. The two most westerly portions of Wollar abut the eastern end of Wilpinjong mining lease. The Moolarben open-cut run by Glencore is immediately west of Wilpinjong.
Hawkins, Rumker and Ganguddy-Kelgoola are three areas running from Hawkins, east of Mudgee, south east to Rylstone and Kandos. Situated in the Western Tablelands, their eastern boundaries track the western edge of Wollemi National Park.
A 64-page Review of Environmental Factors (REF) was completed by the government's Resources and Energy agency in August 2015 on the area, which was described at the time as the Hawkins Rumker Project. Approval for the drilling of 27 boreholes was given in October 2015 by a departmental head under delegated authority for the resources minister at the time, Anthony Roberts. It was reported in October last year that the Advisory Body for Strategic Release, an "interagency" body formed in 2017 as part of the government's response to the ICAC investigations into coal mining leases, had recommended that Hawkins Rumker and Wollombi (below) both be opened for exploration.
Listed as EL230, this area covers 336 square kilometres and sits about 10 kilometres east of the old Charbon underground mine, a bord-and-pillar operation that ran for about 90 years until its final owner, Centennial Collieries, closed it in 2015. Centennial's website says it has contractors undertaking rehabilitation work at Charbon. Centennial also holds various exploration titles to the Inglebrook area, south of Charbon. Consultative committee minutes from 2017 show Centennial was discussing "progress of the Inglenook Project from concept through to feasibility and operation". This is within the area marked pink on the map, which the government says will not be subject to "proactive release" for exploration.
As ACM reported last week, the Wollombi area, A263, covers 178 square kilometres from just north of the Wollombi township through to the southern end of the Bulga open cut, now owned by Glencore. The north-eastern boundary of this area abuts Yancoal's proposed Monash underground mine, a 22.9km site that Yancoal says could produce up to nine million tonnes a year of raw or "run of mine" coal, with up to 40 per cent of that suitable for sale as coking coal. Used for steelmaking, coking coal generally sells for much more than steaming coal. Monash has two exploration licences, EL7579, covering 333 hectares, and EL6123, of 1886 hectares. Both expired last year, and are described as "renewal sought".
The five red areas where mining is prohibited are:
Benelabri Area (2)
Benelabri sits west of Gunnedah, and its southern border abuts leases held by Namoi Coal, part of the Whitehaven group. Its northern tip extends into the giant state-held exploration area A216. It was mentioned in ICAC's Operation Jasper report in 2013.
Watermark buy-back area EL 7223 (3)
Watermark is an open-cut mine proposed by Chinese company China Shenhua. In July 2017, Don Harwin, resources minister at the time, announced the state would pay $262 million to buy back 51.4 per cent of the Watermark lease, after a long-running controversy over the encroachment of mining onto the agriculturally important black soil Liverpool Plains. Shenhua still reportedly intends to proceed with the mine.
Caroona buy-back area EL 6505 (4)
Facing overwhelming opposition, the Baird government bought back all of BHP's Caroona licence on the Liverpool Plains in 2016, paying BHP a reported $220 million in compensation. There are no other coalmining licences held around Caroona or Watermark, but the broader area, including most of Benelabri, is subject to petroleum exploration licence PEL 001, held by Santos companies. PEL 001 is listed as having expired in 2015, with renewal sought.
Rocky Hill SSD 5156 (7)
This is an area related to the Rocky Hill open-cut proposal rejected in February last year by the Land and Environment Court on grounds that included its proximity to the town of Gloucester. The government says SSD5156 is protected against mining through the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining, Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) 2007, usually known as the Mining SEPP. However, another exploration licence, EL6523, remains on the books. It includes most of the prohibited area, but runs closer to Gloucester, with its northern border on the outskirts of town at Jacks Road/Waukivory Road. Rocky Hill proponent Gloucester Resources has held EL6523 since 2006. It expired in March this year and renewal is being sought. Gloucester Resources also holds exploration licences for the Woods Road area, west of Yancoal's existing Stratford/Duralie open cuts south of Rocky Hill.
Doyles Creek area (9)
Doyles Creek was an underground "training mine" proposed by Nucoal Pty Ltd. It featured in ICAC's Operation Acacia investigation, which resulted in corruption findings in 2013, although convictions against former Labor mining minister Ian Macdonald and then-chairman of Doyles Creek, John Maitland, were subsequently quashed. Wambo mine's EL7211 abuts the eastern end of the prohibited area. Wambo is part of the long chain of mines and mining leases running through the Singleton and Muswellbrook areas.